‘Heritage’ can include tangible features like historical buildings and precincts, landscapes and streetscapes, archaeological sites, objects, collections and records. It can also include unseen features, like cultural practices, stories, traditions, folklore and other knowledge inherited over generations.

Use the drop-down links below to explore historical sites and themes that form part of our City’s story. You will also find information on some of our local community organisations that support heritage work in our City.

Our heritage achievements

Take a journey along the interactive map below to understand some of the significant heritage achievements over the past 20 years. Where we have come from will give you an indication of what we can achieve through a new heritage strategy - and why it's so important to get this strategy right.

Graphic of timeline

🏛 Our story

The story of the City of Maribyrnong is found in its people and places. It’s a rich story of diversity, shaped by our First Nations Peoples, European settlers and successive and continuing waves of immigration.

Our municipality has been a hub of industry, remains a place of natural beauty and is home to a vibrant community with cultures, traditions and history that continue to attract interest locally and internationally.

Ten historical themes below showcase our rich heritage tapestry.

The word ‘Maribyrnong’ is an anglicised version of ‘Mirring-gnay-bir-nong’ from the Woi Wurrung language, which translates to ‘I can hear a ringtail possum’.

Since time immemorial, Aboriginal People have gathered in the area now known as the City of Maribyrnong. Maribyrnong is a significant place for the tribes and clans of the Kulin Nation, and in particular the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and Bunurong Peoples.

They are custodians of a vast tract of land that stretches from west to east well beyond what later become Melbourne and wrapped around the coast to what is now the Mornington Peninsula. Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and Bunurong Peoples have witnessed major changes to their Country caused by ancient volcanoes and the flooding of the bay 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. Many of these stories are captured in the oral histories passed down from generation to generation.

After the arrival of the Europeans, initially in 1803 but permanently in 1835, had a devastating effect on the lives of Aboriginal people and their Country. Our City was one of the first areas to be colonised by Europeans, with good river access and flat land that made it attractive to European pastoralists. In Footscray, and along the river, buildings were constructed quite quickly and, since then, there have been many periods of rebuilding and new development. Aboriginal people were pushed off their Country onto missions and reserves, later returning to find a home, and to find work in the post-war and depression years.

Aboriginal people found their Country transformed, but work was to be had in Maribyrnong’s meat, explosives, and textiles industries. These years marked the beginning of the Aboriginal Civil Rights movement of the early twentieth century and by the 1930s and 1940s many Aboriginal people living in what later become Maribyrnong were part of this movement to reclaim their culture and their right to custodianship over Country.

Learn more about Maribyrnong's Aboriginal heritage via the links below:

Maribyrnong’s ‘built heritage’ refers to all those places constructed across the City including housing, industrial areas and our town centres.

From a punt on the Saltwater River (as the Maribyrnong River was then known) in 1939 near its junction with the Yarra River people could travel to Williamstown, Geelong and further. This ‘Saltwater settlement’ was later made the Village Reserve of Footscray. Braybrook, further upstream along the River, was another village reserve established in 1840. With the sale of Crown Land by 1843, landowning was early compared to other parts of Melbourne. Properties were used for agriculture or farming, with the odd hut, shed or other farm building dotted across the landscape. Other landholdings were subdivided and sold off as residential lots from the 1850s. Development and built form followed main roads such as Ballarat Road, which facilitated transport of goods, as did the railway lines and the Maribyrnong River.

While townships had formed during the 19th century, the phenomenon of large-scale employer and government housing began to fill the gaps between main roads and small towns in places like Braybrook, Maidstone and Tottenham. This accelerated during World War two when the Federal Government’s Munition Workers’ House Scheme built 235 houses in Braybrook and Sunshine. After the war the Housing Commission of Victoria developed the Braybrook-Maidstone estate with over 2,000 new homes.

Today, the built form that makes up the City of Maribyrnong continues to change and evolve. Footscray is growing into a high density central hub and Highpoint is shifting from a retail and commercial focus to a major activity centre with a mix of uses including residential. Yarraville and Seddon villages retain their unique character while also evolving to cater for the needs of new residents. Development of former large industrial sites, including Bradmill and Kinnears, as well as new infill development throughout the municipality, are creating new places and buildings for the future.

Council has undertaken heritage studies to identify places of heritage significance. Today, many of these places are protected through a planning control called the Heritage Overlay.

The City of Maribyrnong's identity as a centre for industry in Victoria stretches back to the 1840s when the first industrial establishment opened on the Maribyrnong River. Industry continued to grow along the banks of the river during the 19th century.. In the first half of the 20th century, the landscape across much of what today is the City of Maribyrnong moved from largely farming to industrial land as many companies took advantage of these transport routes and the flat, cheap land to expand their operations.

Quarrying is another form of industry that existed in Maribyrnong for tens of thousands of years, providing the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung with stone for shelters, dwellings, eel-traps, axes, spear points, choppers and other tools. Basalt, found across much of Melbourne’s west and north, is the cooled, hardened outpourings of lava from ancient volcanic eruptions. This has been cut and blasted since the 1840s to build laneways, kerbs, bridges, houses and all manner of institutions from prisons to court houses and Victoria’s Parliament House.

Industry has changed enormously in response to technology and society’s needs and demands. Many companies and industries also played significant roles in the development of Australian trade, commerce, industry, and agriculture for decades. They’ve provided local, national, and international markets with meat products, sugar products, fertilisers and chemicals, and processed and manufactured foods amongst many others.

Learn more about some of our industrial heritage sites:

An important element of our late nineteenth and early twentieth century industrial heritage is that of defence. Due again to the flat, wide, sparsely populated areas, the river enabled transport to and from the Port of Melbourne. This established industrial presence along the river and a ready workforce, and the munitions and explosives industry developed in places like Maribyrnong, Maidstone and Footscray.

These places were once known as ‘the Arsenal of Australia’. Lyons Street in Footscray was the site of the Colony’s powder magazine in the 1860s, but soon it was deemed not isolated enough and Jack’s Magazine was built upstream in the late 1870s. This was later replaced by the Truganina Explosives Reserve. The privately owned Colonial Ammunition Company in Footscray became Australia’s first ammunition factory. Factories producing cordite, an alternative to gunpower, and explosives were also established in Maribyrnong in the late 1890s and early 1900s.

During and after World War One, these factories were developed further, providing not just ammunition and explosives for defence use but also explosives and chemical products for commercial and civil purposes. These included acids, lead-free paints, lacquers, cements, solvents and other products. During the 1920s, the Munitions Supply Laboratories in Maribyrnong was known as ‘the biggest industrial research establishment in Australia’, while the Explosives and Factory Filling Group, also in Maribyrnong, was ‘the centre of the chemical engineering industry in Australia’.

These factories grew considerably in size and scope in the years leading up to World War Two as Australia prepared its defences. They became several hundred buildings in extent, with innumerable concrete or brick shelters for storage of, or protection from, explosives. As well as hosting the manufacturing facilities, Maribyrnong, Tottenham, Braybrook and Footscray were also sites for drill halls, training, administration, living and storage for the armed forces, as well as the army veterinary hospital.

Today, most of these sites have been cleared and replaced, often with medium density housing, but you can learn more about our defence heritage by visiting Jack’s Magazine.

The Maribyrnong River has a rich maritime heritage that goes back tens of thousands of years. Archaeological heritage, oral histories and written records of the Indigenous way of life in the immediate post-contact era has shown the importance of the river for food and transport to the local Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Peoples.

The first non-Aboriginal people on the Maribyrnong were a surveying party in 1803 headed by Charles Grimes, aboard the Cumberland. They rowed upriver as far as the ‘rock falls’ at present-day Avondale Heights and noted an Aboriginal fish trap there.

The river remained unchanged, however, until after Melbourne was founded in 1835 and it became used for industry – transporting raw material and produce and as a drain for refuse. There were slaughtering houses and melting-down establishments at present-day Kensington and, briefly, at Yarraville and then at Maribyrnong. Abattoirs at Newmarket attracted associated industries such as tanners, piggeries, fell-mongers, soap and candle-makers. In the 1860s and 1870s, such industries spread across to the Footscray-side of the river. Producers of fertilisers and chemicals followed, so by the early twentieth century a series of belching chimney stacks and factories lined the riverbank from Dynon Road to Francis Street, all of them using the river for washing, refuse and transportation. The factories generated thousands of jobs but gained Footscray the reputation of the smelliest place in Melbourne.

The Melbourne Harbour Trust was formed in 1877 to manage the Port of Melbourne and became responsible for the Maribyrnong River as far as Footscray. The Trust oversaw the creation of a new course for the Yarra River and the blocking of the old junction between the two rivers near Footscray. It was also responsible for reclaiming land along the banks of the Maribyrnong, for deepening and widening the river to allow vessels to navigate it and for constructing massive wharves at Yarraville and Footscray.

The river and its environs have served as a recreational resource for nearby residents who use it for boating, fishing and enjoying the riverbank. But it has also offered work to thousands of people in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and stimulated the development of Melbourne’s west as an industrial centre.

Some traces of the busy scene that was the Maribyrnong River in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can be glimpsed along the river. To learn more take a self-guided walk of the Maribyrnong River Heritage Trail.

The natural heritage of the City has had a guiding influence on its history and heritage. Maribyrnong sits at the confluence of the Yarra River and the Maribyrnong River, which forms its eastern and northern boundaries. It lies at the eastern edge of the vast Victorian Volcanic Plain and on a bed of hard basalt rock and, apart from some steep escarpments along the Maribyrnong River valley, the area is almost entirely flat or only gently undulating. This lent the City to river-based industries, including as a once-integral part of the Port of Melbourne, or industries that require large spaces, and to large scale housing developments, all of which have had a significant and hugely detrimental impact on Maribyrnong’s indigenous vegetation and wildlife.

Today, some remnants of most indigenous vegetation types persist. These generally occur close to the perimeter of Maribyrnong, either associated with the river, or at the Braybrook Rail Reserve. A scattering of indigenous vegetation occurs along Stony Creek. Revegetated parklands such as Newells Paddock, Pipemakers Park and Stony Creek represent the best quality habitat for fauna. The environments of the Maribyrnong River are being utilised by numerous locally significant bird species and the upper regions of the river contain habitat suitable for the regionally significant Water Rat.

Since the latter decades of the twentieth century, the natural conservation movement has encouraged appreciation of the river for its own sake, rather than just for the support it provides our industries and maritime activities. Local activist groups have highlighted the harm done to the river by industry, and successive state and federal governments have introduced environmental protection measures. Pollution controls, de-snagging and other measures have enabled some wildlife and plant life to return and flourish.

Learn more by downloading the Maribyrnong Natural Heritage Study (1999) or read about the history of Maribyrnong River.

Archaeological heritage can demonstrate the history of a place and past ways of life including glimpses of our previous built form, industrial areas and Aboriginal cultural heritage.

Opportunities for greater understandings of the post-contact/early settler era can still be found within the original town reserves of Footscray and Braybrook, of nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth century working life and industry at sites of former manufactories. Along the Maribyrnong River between Braybrook and Maribyrnong, there are six artefact scatter sites telling of pre-contact Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung life in the area.

Maribyrnong has a rich and continuing migrant history. The first migrants to arrive in today’s City of Maribyrnong were the original European settlers of the 1830s, mainly from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Some of them have left their mark in the form of names given to places, such as Solomon’s Ford. Most non-indigenous residents of the area were migrants up to the 1850s or 1860s, by which time there were many families settled in the area with Australian-born children.

Assisted migrants or imported skilled workers from England and Scotland found homes, work, and lives in the area during the 1880s and 1890s as the manufacturing base expanded and large employers sought a bigger workforce. Other families settled in the area after trying their luck on the goldfields. Apart from the names of streets and districts, the legacy of these people can be seen and still felt in the many institutions that form part of the fabric of Maribyrnong’s life today, including churches, pubs, and sporting clubs. Until the 1940s, the City’s population was overwhelmingly Australian-born or from the British Isles, although a Maltese community were living in Braybrook and working at the Albion Quarries during the 1920s.

Following World War two, waves of migrants and refugees arrived from across Europe and the Americas, so that by 1966 almost a third of the population was born overseas, mostly Italy, Greece, Malta, Poland, the former Republic of Yugoslavia and Germany. In some parts of the City the overseas born numbered three to four times greater than in the early 1930s.

Because of the large numbers of immigrants arriving in Australia in the post-World War two years, the government established hostels to accommodate new arrivals during the adjustment and settlement period. The City had hostels in Maribyrnong (in the old pyrotechnics section of the Explosives factory) and Brooklyn. By 1954, 1000 people were housed at the Maribyrnong hostel in Nissen huts and other buildings. It became known as the Midway Migrant Hostel and in the 1970s was a temporary home to refugees from Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia, and in the 1980s from the central Americas.

Migration to the City of Maribyrnong continues today with 40% of the city’s population being born overseas and 42% speaking a language other than English at home. Vietnam, India and China make up the top five countries of birth (other than Australia), illustrating the City’s continuing diversity.

The impact of waves of multicultural migration on the City of Maribyrnong can be seen in a variety of sites and the range of temples, shops, cafes and restaurants that are operated by people from various cultural backgrounds. Hopkins, Barkly and Leeds Streets in Footscray are particular examples.

Maribyrnong has a strong history of activism over issues ranging from working conditions to racism, diversity and inclusion, pollution and conservation.

While industry was allowed and even encouraged along the river, eventually the smell and pollution became too much for locals. Campaigns to control or licence the 'noxious trades’ in the 1920s and 1930s began to disrupt local elections, and disturbed residents commonly vented their frustration in the local papers. Eventually licencing and pollution controls became a state matter and began to be implemented.

Working conditions were already difficult enough for a population focused on semi- or un-skilled work in the factories and shops. In Yarraville in 1884, a pioneering move was made by shopkeepers to reduce their working hours (12 hours on weekdays and 15 hours on Saturdays) by instigating a half holiday day each week, at first on Wednesdays but eventually changed to Saturday, giving them almost a weekend by the mid-1890s – something the rest of Melbourne did not adopt until 1909.

Many Indigenous people returned to the west of Melbourne looking for work after walking off missions and reserves in the 1920s. Several of these people became community leaders and the Aboriginal Rights movement was very strong in Footscray and Maribyrnong. There are several homes in Footscray, Yarraville, and Seddon where Indigenous people met to support each other as part of the Aboriginal Rights movement, but also to maintain a community within a community in what had become an unrecognisable and often hostile place.

Aboriginal cultural heritage is continuing to be recognised with the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register and Victorian Heritage Register including places with contemporary values, such as William Cooper’s former home at 73 Southampton Street, Footscray.

We know a little about Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung community life from some of the journals of early settlers as well as oral histories passed down through the generations. A site on the west side of the Maribyrnong River at Footscray was noted by Aboriginal Chief Protector George Robinson in March 1841 as having four large camp ovens, some 12 feet wide, ‘it must have been a favourite resort’.

The practice of large employers in the 19th and early 20th century to provide housing for their employees often produced work-related communities of not just the workers but also their families. Raleigh’s ‘Castle’ was an early example, although that was for the male single workers only. Melbourne Meat Preserving Co, the Colonial Sugar Refinery, William Angliss meatworks and Pennells all provided housing for workers and their families.

In the very early days of colonial life, private homes, and outdoor places such as the riverbank and parks were used for community events. Soon however, community and church halls provided indoor spaces large enough to hold social events, political meetings, meetings of groups such as the local progress associations, youth clubs and scout groups. Central Footscray became a hub of night life activities with cinema and theatres becoming a meeting place for many.

These have been replaced in recent years by community ‘centres’ offering a range of services, drop-ins, and meeting rooms. Similarly, there was at least one Mechanics Institute providing newspapers, books, public lectures, and opportunities for self-education. This was established in 1855 in Footscray, but today there are five libraries across the city.

Braybrook can lay claim to the first public radio broadcast from a new broadcasting station in today’s Ashley Street, the official opening of which was a concert by Dame Nellie Melba on 13 October 1924 at His Majesty’s Theatre in Collins Street in aid of the Limbless Soldiers’ Fund. The broadcasting station was one of the most powerful in the world in its day and was leased by 3LO (today ABC Melbourne) to broadcast to the community of Melbourne.

As the population grew and the demographics of the City changed with post-war and subsequent migration the expressions of community life have also grown to include places such as temples, mosques and orthodox churches as well as shopping strips heavily influenced by one or more migrant culture.


William Cooper and his connection to Footscray

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Historical and cultural organisations helping protecting our heritage